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Uzbekistan: Issues in Uzbek Language Development

By June 1, 2020, the government of Uzbekistan will introduce the State Programme for Uzbek Language Development and Language Policy Improvement for 2020-2030, and also the revised law “On state language”.

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This article was prepared jointly with Anhor.uz

The Alisher Navoi Tashkent State University of Uzbek Language and Literature. Photo: university’s website 

Among the priorities of the state programme is the improvement of the system of state language teaching in educational institutions, creation of equal opportunities for development of languages of all nations and ethnicities residing in Uzbekistan, creation of favourable conditions for them to learn the state language.

It’s the lack of good conditions for Uzbek language learning, poor methodology and training base, as well as the lack of receptive and flexible environment for the study of Uzbek language that are specified by many as key issues.
In the 20th century, the alphabet of the Uzbek language has changed a few times. Photo:openasianet.org

Issues in the language sphere of Uzbekistan accumulated for decades. In the last century, Uzbekistan changed the alphabet four times: until 1928, the Uzbek language used the Arabic alphabet, until 1940 the writing system based on Latin alphabet was used, and the Cyrillic alphabet was used for 50 years. In 1993, the Uzbek language in Uzbekistan again was changed to Latin alphabet. In fact, now the country uses both graphics – Latin and Cyrillic.

By the way, all information on the website of the Uzbek service of BBC is available in three languages – Cyrillic, Latin alphabet and Arabic script for ethnic Uzbeks in Afghanistan.

The first in history specialised university of Uzbek language was opened in 2016. The Alisher Navoi Tashkent State University of Uzbek Language and Literature had a task to prepare philologists, scientific educational specialists, translators/interpreters, researchers. Moreover, the university is planning to hold researches of new and efficient methods of teaching of Uzbek language and literature, develop computer-based method of learning of Uzbek language, translation applications and dictionaries, electronic books.

The situation began to change after the president’s decree “On measures to improve the role and authority of Uzbek language as a state language” signed in October 2019. The government now has Department of state language development, which, among other tasks, will prepare proposals to identify and eliminate issues related to the use of state language, as well as to pursue the common state policy to develop it.

The media space has been discussing the draft law “On amendments to article 42 of the Administrative Code of the Republic of Uzbekistan” for a few weeks. The draft law provides for fines for officials for their failure to meet the statutory requirements to state language in official bodies. Depending on the violation, they can amount to 2-5-time basic rate.

Administrative liability is proposed for the violation of requirements of law “On state language”, which was passed in December 1995. The important note is that the question is about the liability of officials.

Professor Saodat Mukhamedova, head of department “Uzbek language” of the Alisher Navoi Tashkent State University of Uzbek Language and Literature, believes the main reason of low interest in the language is the absence of the need to speak the state language:

Uzbekistan has a linguistic environment, yet has no urgent need to know Uzbek language. It does not prevent people from career development or running a business. It’s the urgent need that motivates people to learning any language.

Professor’s words can be proved by high demand for Russian and English languages in the country. The flow of migrant workers from Uzbekistan and obligatory testing in Russia for getting a job permit have become a stimulus for many Uzbekistanis to learn Russian language. The IELTS (International English Language Testing System) certificate gives preferences when applying to universities both in Uzbekistan and abroad, and when applying for a job. This is one of the motivations for young people to learn English.

The A.Navoi university has a lot to do in this regard. If the draft law “On amendments to article 42 of the Administrative Code of the Republic of Uzbekistan” is passed, the republic will face a problem of Uzbek language teaching methodology both for children and for adults.

According to Saodat Mukhamedova, the existing methodology of Uzbek language teaching is obsolete now and is designed mainly to learn grammar. According to her, there is a need for the universal Uzbek grammar, which needs to be developed. Moreover, the republic lacks highly qualified specialists, electronic books, audio and video materials for Uzbek language teaching.

Elementary school students at one of the schools in Uzbekistan. Photo: Matlyuba Mukhamedova /World Bank /CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

“The Uzbek language teaching methodology needs to be revised cardinally according to world standards, i.e. four competencies of language learning: listening comprehension, reading, writing, speaking,” Saodat Mukhamedova said.

There are seven languages of instruction at schools, lyceums, colleges and universities of Uzbekistan and advanced teaching of state language will require qualified teachers who are in deficiency in the country. In the past, teachers of Uzbek language were not trained to teach in foreign language groups. In combination with inefficient methodology, it led to low level of state language teaching. The new direction at the A.Navoi university, “Uzbek language in foreign language groups”, and a quota of 100 students, must solve the issue of shortage of personnel gradually.

Adults will have more difficulties. There is no special methodology of teaching (andragogic education) of Uzbek language to adults. However, according to Saodat Mukhamedova, a few researchers work in this direction now. Soon the Alisher Navoi Tashkent State University of Uzbek Language and Literature will open a centre of records management in state language and further training. The Centre will open Uzbek language courses. Training for individuals will be free of charge.

Political analyst Kamoliddin Rabbimov

Courtesy photo

In the last three decades, the Uzbek language in Uzbekistan did not become the main integrator of the society and did not acquire the status of common language. Uzbekistan de facto was and remains a bilingual state, in the capital of which the majority of state agencies and people keep working and using Russian language.

The problem of Uzbek language is far more serious than it seems. Common Uzbek academic language needs to be created. Also, Uzbek language did not become rich in terminology and fails to express all the subtleties of social studies, sociology, political science, etc. In other words, Uzbek language in Uzbekistan was and is the language of teahouses, streets, not science, politics, economy. An attempt to hold scientific or political discussion on serious topics stops at the serious shortage of modern terminology in Uzbek language and other languages – Russian or English – need to be used.

When it comes to languages and cultures, globalisation sets strict rules of the game: strong gravitation needs to be created, or else you die. Therefore, in addition to stimulating the study of Uzbek language, it is also necessary to create strong and attractive media, a positive image of a democratic state, friendly to a strong civil society, and a free, modern, attractive society without the dictatorship of traditions and rigid boundaries of personal self-expression.

Lola Islamova, editor-in-chief of Anhor.uz  

Photo: Akmal Saidov/themag.uz

State programme on development of Uzbek language and improvement of language policy for 2020-2030, which will be submitted for public discussion soon, should include all the nuances and things related to the shift of paperwork to the state language. The shift will require time and money. The shortage of time, money and improper strategy can lead to the failure of the programme and conflicts in the society.


Abdulla Abdukadirov, economist

If we proceed from the premise that training covers almost 100 thousand people a year across the country, the implementation of the state programme of development of Uzbek language and improvement of language policy for 2020-2030 will cost 1.55 trillion sum or about 150 million dollars at the current rate. It includes all main costs of training: printing of books and textbooks, rent of premises, remuneration of teachers, communication costs. These costs do not cover the expenses of students who will need to buy training aids or even smartphones and personal computers. If the state covers at least some part of expenses, the programme will cost 20-22 per cent more.

This article was prepared as part of the Giving Voice, Driving Change – from the Borderland to the Steppes Project

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